The insurgency began and you missed it.

Seminal R.E.M. album Lifes Rich Pageant, an evergreen work and perennial member of any official Heathen desert-island disk list, turns 30 years old today.

In the 80s, I kept the tape in the car, unless I needed inside. When I started replacing tapes with CDs, a bonus was that I could keep the CD in the house and the cassette in the car, so I had it everywhere. In the MP3 era, it’s always been on my phone for easy access anywhere. And, obviously, as I write this, it’s playing in my office using technology that was science fiction at its release three decades ago.

Here’s a great appreciation of the record, courtesy of the R.E.M. twitter feed, which contains other gems for the faithful.

“I’m John Laurens in the place to be!”

A few fine quotes about Hamiltons’ pal John Laurens:

[Laurens] became close friends with his fellow aides-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton and the General Marquis de Lafayette. He showed reckless courage at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown in which he was wounded, and Monmouth, where his horse was shot out from under him. After the battle of Brandywine, Lafayette observed that, “It was not his fault that he was not killed or wounded … he did every thing that was necessary to procure one or the other.”

Unfortunately, his luck ran out at the 1782 Battle of the Combahee River in South Carolina, when he was only 27. Washington said

In a word, he had not a fault that I ever could discover, unless intrepidity bordering upon rashness could come under that denomination; and to this he was excited by the purest motives.

And, of course, from Hamilton himself:

I feel the deepest affliction at the news we have just received at the loss of our dear and inestimable friend Laurens. His career of virtue is at end. How strangely are human affairs conducted, that so many excellent qualities could not ensure a more happy fate! The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind; and America, of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend whom I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.

John Laurens is buried in land that is now a Trappist monastery (Mepkin Abbey) in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

(Laurens was the only of Hamilton’s crowd to die before he did. Hercules Mulligan died in his eighties, and is buried at Trinity Church, which is also where you’ll find Hamilton’s tomb. Lafayette died at 76; he’s interred in Paris, covered in small part by soil brought over from Bunker Hill. An American flag always flies over his grave.)

Maybe you’re confused. It’s everywhere, but what IS it?

Hamilton is pretty much on fire, but I admit I wasn’t really receptive until the JoCoCruise. I had apparently even skipped the New Yorker article last February about Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Off-Broadway production (which you should track down and read, because it’s amazing, too.)

Anyway. That article mentioned the origin of the show: basically, Miranda got obsessed with Hamilton after reading Ron Chernow‘s biography, and started working on material. The first public airing of the work was the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word — in 2009.

Well, dear reader, you’re in luck; the piece then called “The Hamilton Mixtape” was taped. Here you go. First taste is free.

Actually, it’s the first TWO tastes, because for the Grammys they took a live feed from the theater to show the Grammy audience the first number of an actual performance of the show on Broadway. So here’s what that song became five years later. The lyrics are mostly the same; the biggest difference is that instead of all being from Burr, it’s split up between Burr, Laurens, Jefferson, Madison, Eliza, and Washington.

Make Time.

(Seriously, the embedded link is like watching that old footage of Prince playing “Purple Rain” for the first time. It’s amazing.)

Song Exploder’s Bowie Playlist

First, Song Exploder is brilliant, and you should be paying attention to it.

Second, this feature has a number of musicians discussing particular Bowie songs, and includes John Roderick on Space Oddity (reproduced below). This is awesome because, of course, Roderick has a lost-astronaut song of his own that I’ve seen him play live.

Space Oddity is the original and still the best lost astronaut song, released only a few days before the Apollo 11 launch in 1969. It was originally a current events song! Maybe even a novelty song, if the events in question weren’t so solemn. All the more of an accomplishment, then, that it still sounds futuristic and provokes anxiety 47 years later. In 1969 space travel seemed poised to become mundane–we would soon all be living on space stations, wearing jumpsuits and enjoying science drinks–but Bowie sided with Kubrick that, in addition to metaphysical magic, suburbia, celebrity, and product placement and malfunction would follow us to the stars. Like so much of Bowie’s music, Space Oddity has themes and sounds that in less adroit hands would be corny. The countdown at the top of the song and the horn swell “rocket ship taking off” are so literal you almost roll your eyes, but Bowie’s voice is so urgent you lose all desire for detachment. It’s hard for us now to imagine the emotional moment of 1969, with all the war, violence, unrest and upheaval taking place. The world-historical venture into space, armed with science and human confidence, wasn’t yet a fait accompli. We still could have fucked it up, left dead astronauts on the lunar surface, surrendered to the impossibility of Kennedy’s hubristic challenge and Vietnammed ourselves into a death throe. Instead, we succeeded, and Bowie more than any other artist made outer space the dominant theme of his work for many years after. His persona allowed him to comment on contemporary events from a place that felt like objectivity. Bowie saw us like an alien might, but he loved us and got bloody with us because he was trapped here, or emigrated here on his own, so he took our side. Bowie screeched and squawked and filled his music with unearthly noises and we accepted it because we were so flattered that this metallic space Phoenix was interested in talking to us. The appeal of the Rolling Stones was that you were supposed to feel lucky some cool junkies invited you to listen to their sex party through a keyhole, but Bowie had a message about the salvation of humanity. He seemed to be telling us that the looming apocalypse was survivable? Escapable, maybe? Maybe not, though. Maybe we should just quit fighting and have sex a lot until the fire tornados come? Maybe Major Tom experienced a malfunction and his spacecraft was lost, but more likely Major Tom severed his own tether for reasons known only to him. Maybe he saw something, or someone was waiting out there for him, or he realized the futility of our seeking, or he found what we’re all seeking in the eternal quiet.

More Bowie bits you shouldn’t miss

From the RS tribute issue:

  • Trent Reznor’s comments include Bowie helping him get sober: “I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.“. You should absolutely click through to the 1994 tour performance wherein he and Bowie do “Hurt” together. (How the fuck did I miss that tour?)

  • Longtime Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey — who also became his “Under Pressure” duet partner — was more or less plucked from near-obscurity to tour with him; her memories of him are here. On this one, don’t miss the video of “Under Pressure.”

This is probably obvious, but it bears pointing out: He planned it.

Bowie’s exit — the release of his album only days before his death, the video of “Lazarus,” the timing of it all — is in no way an accident, and was absolutely planned. His producer confirms it.

A commenter on Metafilter calls it a “nothing-but-net exit,” which to me just about sums it up.

You should never doubt that he was, in addition to so much else, an unstoppable conceptual bastard.

Dept. of Unlikely Name Collisions, Jazz Subdivision

Several years ago — and most likely via NPR — I became aware of a jazz bassist named Avishai Cohen.

This morning, a really nice video of him and his band playing was in my feeds; you can watch it here, and I suggest you do (ideally with headphones).

As I listened, I tried to go to Wikipedia for a background refresher on Cohen, and found something somewhat surprising.

I already thought it unusual that Cohen is an Israeli-born jazz musician; maybe it’s because I’m a middle-aged white man, but I don’t think of Israelis as being terribly well represented in jazz. So imagine my surprise when my Wikipedia search brought me this:

Avishai cohen

Yup. In addition to the Israeli-born jazz bassist Avishai Cohen (b. 1970,, there’s also an Israeli-born jazz trumpeter named Avishai Cohen (b. 1978,, and they appear unrelated.

Neat. Maybe what the jazz world needs now is a collaboration?

On the big lake they call Gitche Gume

Forty years ago today, on November 10, 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank with all 29 hands in an early winter gale on Lake Superior. You probably know the song about it.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’ll note again for the record that I was shocked to learn in my twenties that this 70s-soft-rock gem was, in the true folk tradition, about a current event, not something that happened in the age of sail. Gordon Lightfoot wrote and recorded the song only a month after the sinking, in December of 1975. To this day, nobody really knows what took her down — the weather was obviously a factor, and could’ve produced a massive wave, but that’s speculation.

There’s a whole host of links available at this MeFi thread that may be worth your time if you, like me, find the whole thing fascinating.

Of course, at the time, 1.9 billion was considered quite a lot of people.

Where were YOU thirty years ago today? And, more importantly, what were you listening to?

There is only one acceptable answer, assuming you were alive to do it: July 13, 1985 was the date of the only dual-continent concert I’m aware of: Live Aid. From Wikipedia:

Live Aid was a dual-venue concert held on 13 July 1985. The event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the “global jukebox”, the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people). On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as Australia and Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time: an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast.

Who played? Well , just in case you can’t recall, here’s a partial list:


  • Boomtown Rats
  • Adam Ant
  • Spandau Ballet
  • Elvis Costello
  • Sade
  • Sting, Phil Collins, and Branford Marsalis
  • Howard Jones
  • Bryan Ferry with David Gilmour
  • U2 (in a performance that kind of established them as a HUGE live act — and this was before Joshua Tree)
  • Dire Straits
  • Queen
  • David Bowie
  • The Who
  • Elton John
  • Paul McCartney


  • Joan Baez
  • Black Sabbath (with Ozzy!)
  • Run DMC
  • Rick Springfield
  • REO Speedwagon
  • CSN
  • Judas Priest
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Pretenders
  • Madonna
  • The Cars
  • Neil Young
  • Eric Clapton and Phil Collins
  • Duran Duran
  • Led Fucking Zeppelin (with two drummers, the better to mimic the missing Bonzo)

In this era of endless reunions, it’s probably hard to grasp how amazing that last part is; to my knowledge, Page, Plant, and Jones hadn’t shared a stage since Bonham’s death five years before. Zeppelin were just over. And then, here there they were.

Obviously, lots of amazing things happened at Wembley and and JFK — not the least of which is Phil Collins’ famous status as the only guy to play both venues, courtesy of the Concorde — but thirty years of discussion have led us to the inescapable conclusion that Queen turned in not just the best set of the day, but maybe the best set of rock and roll ever played on any stage.

Here you go.

Sadly, there actually aren’t any complete recordings of the whole affair — partly by design, actually. Queen were somewhat unique in that they captured their whole set, and later had it remastered in 5.1 for inclusion on their Queen Rock Montreal BluRay, which is well worth your time even if you’re only a casual Queen fan.

By the 70s, he was a joke. Except, occasionally, when he wasn’t.

He, of course, being Elvis.

On Twitter, author Lawrence Wright (The Looming Tower, Going Clear, etc.) calls our attention to this brief, brilliant performance of “Unchained Melody” apparently from a show at the Pershing Municipal Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on June 20, 1977.

Less than two months later, Presley was dead. Contrary to his commentary in the clip, the title of the upcoming album would be Moody Blue when it dropped in July of that year. Here at Heathen World HQ, we have a copy on vinyl.

Blue vinyl. Because 1977, obviously.

The finest son of Itta Bena

I saw him, once.

It was 27 years ago, when I was a lad of 18. In those days, he’d play with some frequency in a Palmer’s Crossing juke joint called the Hi-Hat Club, which was under ordinary circumstances not a place a skinny white kid would likely be welcome. Shootings there weren’t unheard of. Only four years later, a policeman would be hailed as a hero for killing a gunman there, which I remember only because the cop was married to a high school acquaintance. PTSD nearly did the cop in, too.

It was that kind of place, except when it wasn’t. And one of the times it wasn’t was when BB was in town.

Then as now, Mississippi doesn’t have a whole lot to be proud of, but music is something we do well, and BB has been a jewel in the Magnolia crown since the 1940s. He toured tirelessly, playing both fancy venues and dodgy clubs like the Hi-Hat (which, violent reputation or no, is also a stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail).

Anyway, so I went out there. I don’t remember my mother protesting at all, which is either selective recollection or evidence that she didn’t realize exactly where he was playing — and the latter seems really unlikely, because the Hi-Hat wasn’t exactly obscure; even going to Palmer’s Crossing at night was probably enough to worry some folks. Still, out I went, in a 1971 Chevy pickup.

As I recall, I tried to take my girlfriend, who refused to even ask her parents about going. Her relationship with them was weird, I guess, but she was clearly wrong because after I paid my cover and walked in — past the bar, where they served me a Michelob as quickly as I could ask for one, drinking age notwithstanding — I was immediately hailed by her father. In the absence of anyone else I knew, I sat with him and enjoyed the show in a room that was surprisingly mixed. We were absolutely the minority, but BB was BB, and I guess people who loved the music were welcome regardless of shade.

BB has been old forever. He was 89 when he died, which means he was “only” 62 for this particular gig, not that you could tell — the man knew how to work a crowd even though he played from a chair. He was famous for his guitar’s beautiful tone, but let me tell you no recording I’ve yet heard really captured it like I heard it that night. I was thrilled and a little shocked at how blue his stage patter was, but I suspect he tailored that to the room. At the Hi-Hat, where he’d played for decades, my guess is he probably did a lot less editing than he’d do in fancier clubs.

I’ve never sought out another set for whatever reason. I’ve had opportunities, sure, but truth be told my own blues preferences are a little louder and a little later — more Buddy Guy, say. But I’m awful glad I got to see the King, and do so in a small room in a no-shit Mississippi juke joint, illegally drinking beer with my girlfriend’s dad, late into a warm Mississippi night in 1988.

It’s Friday. You need some new music.

You should totally pick up on Zoe Keating.

Keating plays the cello, which is awesome from the getgo, but what she does is way more amazing than just that. She builds a composition in real time using only her cello and her laptop, using loops to create remarkable and amazing landscapes of sound. Her work is beautiful and haunting and absolutely worth your time. I’ve been a fan for years, and then had the fantastic good fortune to see her live on the JoCoCruise back in 2013. Here’s video of that performance, from YouTube:

I’m picking this video (and there are lots; Keating is savvy about internet fair use) for two reasons: one, Mrs Heathen and I were there watching (see here), and two, at that moment Keating was unaware of the terrible, rough road that lay ahead of her.

Soon after the end of the cruise that year, her husband Jeff was diagnosed with cancer. Her tangles with her health insurer made plenty of news, and should terrify everyone, but the real point is that in addition to dealing with her spouse’s life-threatening disease, she also had to force and shame her insurance company into covering his care. Oh, and raise a toddler. There’s that, too.

Keating’s husband had ups and downs in his treatment, but the initial diagnosis was pretty dire and included multiple metastasis sites. That’s a shitty hand to be dealt, and the endgame was probably already set before they even knew what was happening.

That end came yesterday.

It’s because of the peculiar nature of the JoCo cruise that I can tell you that yes, Keating is a terribly nice person, as was Jeff. If what you see and hear in the video above appeals to you, please consider buying some of her music today. They could use the help.

At least I’m in good company

Bono is apparently more crap at riding a bike than I am:

On the day of my 50th birthday I received an injury because I was over indulging in exercise boxing and cycling, which was itself an overcompensation for overindulging on alcohol coming up to the big birthday. I promised myself I would be more mindful of my limits, but just four years on, it happened again – a massive injury I can’t blame on anyone but myself, mainly because I blanked out on impact and have no memory of how I ended up in New York Presbyterian with my humerus bone sticking through my leather jacket. Very punk rock as injuries go.


Recovery has been more difficult than I thought… As I write this, it is not clear that I will ever play guitar again. The band have reminded me that neither they nor Western civilization are depending on this.

The whole thing is on an alphabet riff; scroll down for X for the inevitable X-ray of his repaired elbow, which looks even scarier than my repaired femur.

This is more time than anyone our age should have spent on Dr Hook, and yet it’s brilliant

Okkerville River’s Will Sheff is absolutely in love with an obscure German TV concert tape of Dr Hook & the Medicine Show (conveniently also on YouTube; he embeds bits to illustrate his points) and has written a truly remarkable analysis of it that is absolutely worth your time even if you’re only vaguely aware of who this band was. It is in particular compelling in its insight into the musical and interpersonal dynamics going on in a live performance, which I find fascinating.

When you’re done, check the comments. It turns out two members of the band show up there and weigh in, which is awesome (frontman Dennis Loccorriere, and guitarist Rik Elswit).

(Widely linked.)

Listen up, cause you can’t say nothin’ / you shut me down with the push of your button

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with complete dismay that I point out that SABOTAGE is now twenty years old.

Never has a video been so perfect, but where is the cast now?

  • Vic Colfari made his debut as Bobby, the Rookie. After a series of failed pilots, Colfari became a household figure in Canada as the spokesman for Viva Queso, a chain of tex-mex restaurants based in Calgary.

  • Fred Kelly’s only role is his turn as Bunny, and we’re all richer for it. Kelly, an undrafted free agent, used his “Sabotage” fame to gain a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played until 1999. Today, Kelly is semi-retired, and coaches high school football in his small Nebraska hometown.

  • Nathan Wind’s star turn as Cochese sent him into the acting stratosphere with almost unprecedented speed. A year before “Sabotage,” Wind was waiting tables in a Tulsa Applebee’s; a year after, he was the toast of the town at Cannes based on his cast-against-type appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s 1995 remake of “Duck Soup.” Wind splits his time between Los Angeles, his Wyoming ranch (tellingly named “Sabotage Acres,” we’re told), and a villa near Lake Como.

  • Sir Stewart Wallace, he of mustache, safari jacket, and briefcase, remains an enigma. Few realize that he wore his own clothes for the shoot, but knowing what we know now about his occasional intelligence work, it makes sense. Wallace gave no interviews in the scrum of press surrounding “Sabotage,” and quickly became almost impossible to pin down. There are stories of him surfacing at random fan events, conventions or festivals, in disguise so as not to disrupt them, but none have been confirmed, and virtually nothing is known of his personal life.

    His last public appearance was two years ago, in the spring, at the opening of a Zen retreat near Palmetto, Florida. He has not been seen since, and his representation claims ignorance.

    Regardless of his whereabouts, we wish Wallace the best. All of us miss him very, very much.

“In the darkness of the room / your mother calls you by your true name…”

Or, a few thoughts on how we spent Tuesday night:

  • A month or so ago, when we were at the Woodlands for Arcade Fire, we were among the oldest people present not chaperoning children. This was clearly NOT the case with Bruce.

  • Bruce Springsteen is sixty fucking four years old, and has lost ZERO steps. He remains a trim — if tiny — densely packed distillation of live performer charisma. He played for a curfew-defying 3+ hours; it’s said online that this tour has supporting acts in some venues, but the bullshit rules at the Woodlands left no room for one. He started before 8, and didn’t finish until after 11. You damn sure get your money’s worth, that’s for certain.

  • It is apparently a thing for the crowd to play a little “stump the band” game with Bruce via signage. Several times I saw him point and grab a sign, thrilling a pit member, before launching into a song almost certainly already on the playlist — but this game got truly fun a few times when the request tickled him enough to take a flyer on some deep cut. The first instance was “One Step Up,” from 1988′s Tunnel of Love; the sign noted that, apparently, he hasn’t played it with the full E Street Band since that year, so of course CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

    The later, better example was when he pulled two young Hispanic brothers up onstage, complete with their sign to the effect of “I busted my brother out of school to sing NO SURRENDER with the Boss!” Bruce obliged, and shared the mic with them for the duration of the song. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at a concert. (Confidentially to Triple-F, it’s a level of “cool older brother at a concert” mojo that my late-1990s stunts cannot begin to match; sorry, dude).

  • One reason we ponied up the stupid amount of money required for decent seats at a Springsteen show this time around was the addition of Tom Morello on guitar. Little Steven’s busy in Norway, as I mentioned back in March, and the swap really adds some much-needed modernity to Bruce’s live sound. Morello is a goddamn wizard, and is a real pleasure to watch play — and what he gives to “The Ghost of Tom Joad” cannot be overestimated. Track of the night, IMO.

  • Returning to Joad, it was both predictable and disappointing that much of the crowd sat for this barnburner of a track; it’s not one they know (the live version is a performance of the re-recorded track from High Hopes, not of the original version from 1995 album of the same name). Of course, a mob of rich baby boomers in the Woodlands probably wouldn’t take too kindly to the overtly leftist ideas in the song even if they were following the lyrics (notwithstanding the “ARM THE HOMELESS” slogan on Morello’s guitar, there were no verbal politics from the stage outside of Bruce’s lyrics). They did, at least, come to their feet for Morello’s solo.

  • I don’t think she had a sign, but Bruce DID fish a woman out of the pit for “Dancing in the Dark.” The woman, clearly middle aged, is probably only a little bit older than that chick from the iconic video is now.

  • By the way, watch that video. Bruce’s youth — it was 1984, a full thirty years ago — will just SLAY you.

  • If you think three decades is a long time, this’ll kill you: he noted that the first time they played Houston was FORTY years ago, in 1974.

  • You know “Because the Night” because of Patti Smith, probably, but it was actually co-written by Bruce. Knowing that, as you now do, you must be faced with the same question I have: Why in the FUCK did milquetoast meek Natalie Merchant think she could cover it?

  • Of course Bruce brings on Joe Ely. Of course he does. I just wish they’d sung something other than covers of songs designed for the geriatric set; it’s not like Ely’s own songbook isn’t full of more interesting options than “Lucille” and “Great Balls of Fire.”

  • More disappointing was how much time Bruce gave to “Shout” towards the end, when I was getting antsy for “Thunder Road.” Really? Obviously, Bruce is not my monkey, but what I said about the covers with Ely goes double for this nursing home track that was tired when Born to Run was released. (Obviously, though, the overwhelmingly older crowd loved it, so I guess he knows his audience.)

  • He did, thankfully, finish out the night with a spare, acoustic, solo take on “Thunder Road,” which was a fine way to go out, but I can’t help but wish for a higher-energy take.

Now: let’s hope we can go at least a year without driving back out to the Synthetic Suburbs.

Here’s something I didn’t know that’s awesome

When Bruce Springsteen toured Australia last year, he needed an extra guitar man because Little Steven couldn’t make the trip.

He tapped Tom Morello, with whom he’d apparently become friends since a performance together in LA in 2008.

Here they are, doing “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (from the Hall of Fame in 2009, not the Aussie tour).

I think it’s safe to say the collaboration works. Play it loud.

(Via this Rolling Stone interview with Morello, which is worth reading for lots of reasons.)


In the “that settles it” department, looks like I’m buying tickets to see Bruce in the Woodlands in May, because Morello is with him for the whole tour owing at least partly to Van Zandt’s shooting schedule on Lilyhammer.

Pete Seeger

Sad news this morning; 94-year-old Pete Seeger, folk giant and national conscience, has passed away.

Don’t miss either his Wikipedia bio or the exhaustive Times obit linked above. Remember, this is a man who told the House Un-American Activities Committee that

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.

They tried to imprison him for that. That’s an American hero, right there.

Five years ago this month, Mrs Heathen and I stood in the cold and wet in Washington at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial for the Obama Inaugural Concert. Among our favorite memories of that day is seeing Pete Seeger perform live, leading us in all the verses of “This Land Is Your Land.”

We were part of a very very large, yet very very happy sea of humanity, so my only shot of Seeger is actually a long shot of a jumbotron, but I’ll take it.

Fortunately, YouTube has decent footage of his performance. Take a moment for Mr Seeger (his grandson is part of this ensemble, by the way).

Pete Seeger was married for almost 70 years to Toshi Seeger, an accomplished figure in her own right. Mrs Seeger passed away last July, at the age of 91.